Did You Miss Something? Qabalah Versus Hermeticism

This article was written by Jean-Louis de Biasi
posted under Occult

This is the first article in the series "Aurum Solis: The Heart of the Hermetic Tradition."

For many centuries the Western Tradition seems to have become reduced to teaching only one aspect of the tradition: Hebrew Qabalah. In a previous article, I explained that magic rituals, philosophical teachings, etc. existed long prior to the creation and development of the esoteric interpretations of the biblical texts. Of course this is an important aspect of the history of the West, which led to a new point of view of nature of the universe. Even more importantly, different aspects of our understanding of the cosmos were radically modified by this new vision. Your first reaction to this fact might be to accept it as a part of natural, historical evolution. Thus, in the same way that science and technology have evolved, you could infer that the Esoteric Tradition has also evolved. However, it must be understood that the term evolution does not necessarily imply a promise of progress towards something better. Rather, evolution can be seen as a succession of transformations that change things from one state to another state. Therefore, not all evolution brings about good results, but you can learn from each step in the process. For example, surely no one would argue that the dark days of the Middle Ages and the disappearance of nearly all the scientific knowledge that existed up to that point is a good thing. Still, we can learn from this period of darkness and intolerance. This principle is equally true for the evolution of esoteric traditions. These transformations were not always positive for the person who was eager to know the hidden arcana of the universe and the sacred Mysteries of the West. It is also true that, at certain periods in history, obscure minds or those with a specific religious agenda have warped or hidden essential parts of esoteric knowledge for long periods.

Qabalah is a generic word that describes various techniques of interpretation of an esoteric text known as the Bible, which is the original sacred text of the monotheistic religions. The Jewish people invented Qabalah and developed it around the 1st century. However, Qabalistic teachings and practices were restricted to Jewish people until much later. During the fifteenth-century, only a small number of Christian philosophers learned this aspect of the Western tradition, and used it to interpret their own religion: Christianity. Of course, this esoteric manipulation of numbers, letters, and sacred words existed long before the Jews began using these principles in their religion. Although neither of these systems is superior to the other, it should be noted that the Qabalistic tradition that developed from the Biblical Tradition is rooted in different principles than the pre-biblical Ogdoadic (Hermetic) Tradition.

One of the central texts of Qabalah is entitled the Sepher Yetzirah ("The Book of Creation"). This esoteric and religious writing tells the story of the creation of the universe with the use of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This text is really interesting. That is why most of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century initiates used these correspondences and the associated Sephirotic system. Several initiatic Orders were (and are still) deeply rooted in this Tradition. Other initiatic Orders (such as the Aurum Solis) used some parts of this system, but modified them consistent with its pre-Christian origin and tradition. The French Occultist Eliphas Levi adapted the Tarot to the Christian Qabalistic system I have been talking about. Twenty Major Arcana were associated with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Following this European tendency, the Golden Dawn and other Orders built their system and most of their rituals around these same correspondences.

This all seemed to be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately, various instabilities remained inherent in the system. The evolution of several groups or Orders using this system have demonstrated the unbalanced nature of the different energies that they commonly invoked and used in their rituals. Many people have felt and recognized this imbalance without really understanding the origin of it. Now it is important to emphasize again that the Ogdoadic and Pagan traditions (modern and ancient) were not using the same system. Their rituals remain rooted in the original conception of the constituent elements of the cosmos we still see in astrology: four elements (plus one, Ether), seven planets, and twelve zodiacal signs. Most of the rituals of the Ogdoadic and Hermetic system are based on this system, which gives stability and balance to the energies we invoke and the rituals we perform.

Moreover, a very quick calculation will reveal an unsettling result. Five Elements + seven Planets + twelve signs yield 24, not 22. This gives us a natural relationship between the 24 Greek letters and these 24 fundamental elements of the cosmos. Perhaps it is time to remind you that the sacred languages of the Hermetic Tradition were Akadian, Egyptian, and Greek (Akadian and Egyptian are two of the most ancient Western languages). All Theurgists in antiquity used Egyptian and Greek in their rituals. So, what happened? How did this come to be? Did someone overlook or lose something? In fact, yes they did! Two fundamental elements were overlooked: Earth and Spirit (Ether)!

If you will, take a break from reading and try to find the earth element in your Qabalistic system. As everyone knows, the elements are associated with the four directions: Air to the East, Fire to the South, Water to the West, and Earth to the North. In the Qabalistic text of the Sepher Yetzirah, the three mother letters are given as Aleph (Air or Spirit), Mem (Water), and Shin (Fire). Unfortunately, there is nothing for the Earth and Ether! So if you try to use the Hebrew Qabalah in a ritual, you will have to forget one direction (north) and try to work your ritual in three directions while staying in good balance. In other words, you have just three points on your pentagram! This is a strange situation when you are trying to achieve a good and well balanced practice. It is true that the Sepher Yetzirah attempted to find a way to include Earth within Water (Mem), but this is an inadequate solution; jamming these two letters together leaves both fundamental parts of the system inadequately treated.

Moreover, it is equally obvious that the principles of Nature and the Body were generally rejected or were treated as obstacles to be overcome in both Judaism and Catholicism. The Hermetic tradition (and Aurum Solis in particular) have a very different perspective in that regard.

Consequently, the representation of the Tree of Life chosen by the occultists, the one from Moses of Cordovero with 22 paths, are left with two elements missing from their work!

There have only been a few modern magicians who recognized that omission and attempted to solve the problem, by adding the two missing principles. You see evidence of an attempted solution in the book 777 by Crowley. The Ordo Aurum Solis has also made this correction with a path numbered 32 corresponding to the Earth and another path numbered 31, corresponding to Spirit or Ether.

As you may well imagine, the consequences of these omissions are critically important for magicians, Theurgists, and all those who are eager to be ritual practitioners. It is impossible to omit a major element in your work (such as Earth) without consequences. The same is true for Spirit or Ether. Fortunately, the Hermeticists who lived during the Renaissance in Italy, the heirs to the Theurgic Tradition, and the masters of the Golden Chain of Initiates, used and retained the complete original system (which included all 24 elements). They used this system in the ritual they performed at the new Academia that Pletho founded in Florence (Italy). Pletho was a Master of this lineage. By invoking the Immortal Divinities with hymns, rituals, and libations, the initiates perpetuated these Mysteries. The Divine Arcana, which are symbolic representations of this cosmologic and Theurgic system, were hidden in different writings and carvings on buildings. The Tarot of Mantegna was one of the few systems that retained some of the elements from the original Arcana of this system. In my book The Divine Arcana of the Aurum Solis, I explain how and where these traditional and fundamental keys were used.

The representations of these Arcana were preserved in various ways, including being hidden inside the Inner Order, and being visible to all in a mysterious church in the North of Italy (a real Pagan Temple). It was in this place that Malatesta put the dead body of Pletho, exhumed from its burial place in Mistra (Greece). As I mentioned in my book, Tarot is associated with the Qabalah. However, you now recognize that the word “Qabalah” can denote different systems. This awareness will help you to understand the beauty and the usefulness and character of the Hermetic system. In my book, you will find a “Qabalistic” system but would more precisely be described as the “Hermetic Qabalah.”

If you want to develop your inner potential, being congruent with the roots of the Hermetic and Theurgic Tradition is fundamental so that you can begin your spiritual journey safely, congruent with the original teachings of the ancient masters. When you use the Arcana, you will be able to immediately feel and easily increase your connection with the powers of each Arcanum by interacting with its representation and saying the sacred names. When the time comes for you to think about all that, it is essential that you notice the parts that are missing or confusing in the usual Qabalistic teachings and rituals. It is essential for your growth and understanding that you shine a light on the power, completeness and beauty of the original Western Tradition, which is also visible in some parts of astrology and alchemy. It is essential that everyone be allowed to rediscover the Divine Arcana and that you be able to use it in divination, your rituals, and your life. By now you realize that the Immortal Divinities never died, no matter the powers used to obscure them. They are still very much a living presence. When you pick up such Arcanum in your hand, the channel to this potent power will immediately be opened for you.


Jean-Louis de Biasi Jean-Louis de Biasi
Jean-Louis de Biasi is a writer, speaker and a Hermetic philosopher who has studied the various topics of the Tradition since the 1970s, and who has been initiated into the highest degrees of several Western initiatic traditions including Grand Master of...  Read more
This Article used with permission of Llewellyn Worldwide
COPYRIGHT 2011 Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Great article!
Thanks Shane, I thought so too and had to share it. :) Glad you liked it.
I have read it before, but the re-read sparked a revisit to a project idea I have.

thanks for posting.  i am learning a lot from the aurum solis.  i think that the earth and aether elements are fundamental and should be present.  i also think the 24 is powerful.  i am truly looking forward to learning more about the tree of life from the hermetic perspective.  please share more info on this.  thanks!

Tree of Life Meditation

You're most welcome, glad you found it of interest. I've shared most of the information I have personally already, and because of health reasons don't spend much time these days posting much of anything. However it seems you have a fair bit of resources yourself, so please do feel free to start new discussion threads either posting some of what you've discovered and/or asking for other members/group input if there's a particular area you're hoping for more insight into.

thanks for this post, can you tell me more about how the tree of life you posted reflects the 24 paths or am I overthinking? Also its been a year since this post have you expanded your knowledge on Hermetics? would you mind recommending some literature?

Thanks Dean. I also thought that Malkuth was to represent the Earth element.

thanks so much for this post! it is helping me in my study of Hermeticism and cleared up some confusion. 

Really good article! Hey if you have an interest in Kabbalah and Alchemy- You gotta read Gershom Scholem. A fascinating book! 93!

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